DC Universe Rebirth is the best single issue comicbook that DC Comics has published in recent history. That's the short and sweet version of this review, which we will be keeping completely spoiler-free, despite the embargo being lifted. There ARE spoilers in the officially-released preview gallery below, though. Be warned.
Geoff Johns teamed with a cadre of artists: Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Hi-Fi, Phil Jimenez, Matt Santorelli, and Gabe Eltaeb, plus letterer Nick J. Napolitano to create something that doesn't just right mistakes made during the New 52 era of DC Comics, but actively declares war on a state of being in superhero comics. This book says loudly and clearly: we need to be better, and it shouts out that optimism can and must defeat cynicism.
That's a heck of a deep and heady thing for a comicbook, especially one meant to help relaunch an entire universe, to attempt. Yet it works here, because everything is hyper-focused on the emotional context. Every beat, every character re-introduction, every plot set up is centered directly around a character or pair of characters and their relationships. You don't just see Aquaman and Mera, you see what's between them. You don't just glimpse a long-lost character, you see his pain at having been forgotten.
The themes of the book, direct from Johns himself, are Hope, Optimism, and Legacy. The Legacy portion is the driving factor, the plot setups for the rest of the Rebirth of the DCU. The protagonist of the issue, the narrator (that I won't spoil here but IS spoiled in the preview pages) goes on a bit of a tour of the DCU. He notices that there's something wrong with it, something missing. "Heroes that were legends became novices, bonds between them were weakened and erased. Legacies were destroyed," he says. It's an incredible piece of meta-commentary; Yes, the protagonist is setting up the basis of this Rebirth, but he's also talking very truthfully and astutely about DC Comics as a whole for the last few years. Some good things definitely came out of the New 52, but a lot of what made the DC Universe unique was lost in the process. That's now an actual plot point in the DCU, and it makes a lot of sense.
Essentially, in the 80 pages of DC Universe Rebirth, Geoff Johns and company tells you what's wrong with and missing from DC Comics, fixes it, and sets up a future that really restores hope. There is scarcely a corner of the DCU that's not affected or touched upon here. There are characters that have been long dead, or lost completely, that are restored. There are relationships that finally take another step forward. Gone, it seems, are these arbitrary rules that having a legacy or a relationship negatively impacts characters; the DCU has been made of legacy for decades, and now it finally will be again.
There is also a major plot twist that again, not spoiling here. It's one that will be divisive, and might steal some focus from the real importance of the book. I would encourage fans, though, to take it in stride, know that it's there, sure, but really focus on the emotional beats, the love for and between these characters that is projected on every page. Directly following the big reveal is a two-page spread that says "The Greatest heroes… Their Greatest Threats" and shows about 100 DC Heroes. There are some redesigns as they fly and run into action, some classic designs coming back, but most importantly, there are smiles on their faces. It tells you, flat out: the DC Universe has hope, and it's ready to show it again.
That's the DC Universe I want to be reborn, the one I want to read, the one I want pulled from in other media. And it's the one that DC Universe Rebirth #1 gives back to us.